Astoria Park Alliance celebrates Shore Fest with music, contests (WITH VIDEO)

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Youngsters Zuley Dominguez, 10 (l.), and Loubna Jaghnyn, 12, compete in a watermelon-eating contest during the Astoria Park Shore Fest. Jaghnyne was declared the winner for the round, which was restricted to children 12 years of age and under. Photo by Christina Santucci
Martha Gilpin, from the Astoria Park Alliance, holds up a watermelon rind belonging to Bayside resident Sarah Bighow-Semevolos (r.) during a watermelon-eating contest at the Astoria Park Shore Fest. Bighow-Semevolos won the second of two preliminary rounds, but was beaten in the final. Photo by Christina Santucci
Jennifer Lee Dudek (l.), of Jackson Avenue's Malu ice cream, serves up some flavors at the Astoria Park Shore Fest over the weekend. Photo by Phil Corso
Ryan Shintani enjoys a slice of watermelon. Photo by Christina Santucci
Ja-lyn Williams waits patiently for the contest to begin. Photo by Christina Santucci
Nisha Gupta (c.) has a cheering section. Photo by Christina Santucci
Several watermelons were cut up for festival goers. Photo by Christina Santucci
Matt Yonks gives a hand to his daughter Vivianna Guerra-Yonks. Photo by Christina Santucci
Contestants' rinds are judged to see who is the winner. Photo by Christina Santucci
Willie Dominguez (c.) chows down. Photo by Christina Santucci
Anuka Sarkar of Astoria enjoys a piece under the tent. Photo by Christina Santucci
Sarah Bighow-Semevolos (l.) shakes hands with competitor Aditya Saurabh. Photo by Christina Santucci

With Astoria’s Shore Road blocked off to any passing traffic, enough room was made for something Queens doesn’t see a lot of on any typical quiet summer Sunday, from ukulele lessons to fruit-eating frenzies.

The Astoria Park Shore Fest kicked off its second of three weekly installments last weekend, fully stocked with everything from live music to a watermelon-eating contest.

Buried within the crowds of people enjoying the different sights, tastes and sounds along the East River was Roberto Buscarsi, a self-proclaimed crooning ukulele player and entertainer. In conjunction with the local Malu ice cream, Buscarsi was offering a friendly how-to lesson in the pint-sized string instrument, fully equipped with his own human bouncing ball method to help players follow along.

“I really enjoy sharing music with people. That is the bottom line,” Buscarsi said. “The ukulele is the most accessible and playable instrument and people seem to enjoy getting their hands on it.”

Buscarsi said he has been a longtime Shore Fest attendee, but this year was his first time hosting what he called a ukulele social with jams and teach-ins.

The Astoria Park Alliance worked with the city Department of Transportation to help launch the annual Shore Fest, sponsored by Green Mountain Energy. Shore Road was scheduled to be closed three consecutive Sundays from Aug. 5 to Aug. 19 for the various food-tastings, fitness programs and educational activities. The end of each event also included the giving away of free premium sod for anyone interested in getting their hands on a little more green.

Throughout the afternoon, the park was filled with Queens residents from Astoria and beyond, patrolling the scenic route along the East River through the different tents of food, music and entertainment. At one tent, children were coached one-on-one how to ride a bicycle as parents watched. In another spot of the park, borough natives shared their musical talents to crowds of singing people.

Nearby, kids and parents crowded around a large tent to see what generating all the surrounding noise. Under the tent, festival volunteers shouted along as contestants chomped away at watermelons in a heated race to see who could down their slice the fastest. Contestants wore black garbage bags around their bodies to ensure they did not use their hands, despite the temperatures approaching the upper 80s.

Bayside resident Sarah Bishow-Semedolos walked away with an extra sense of accomplishment after she nailed second-place honors in the watermelon-eating contest. After competing in the event last year, she said it was a bit easier the second time around.

“It is a tough competition, but it’s still a lot of fun to be a part of,” she said. “Maybe next year I can come back with some more training.”

Proud boyfriend Oscar Arias cheered Bishow-Semedolos on for bringing back watermelon-eating honors after not placing in last year’s contest.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 3:48 pm, August 18, 2012
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